The Commercial Appeal
St. Jude chief Downing receives Communicator of the Year award
When Dr. James Downing, president and CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, thinks about how to communicate the mission of the hospital, two stories come to mind.
The first is of a constantly smiling 12-yearold girl who died of osteosarcoma and asked her parents to have St. Jude study her tumors after her death so other children wouldn’t go through what she did. The second was of a doctor in Nicaragua whose desire to do all he could in the 1980s to help sick children in a nation experiencing civil war led to a partnership that spawned St. Jude Global.
That boils down to a few central questions.
“How do we cure the incurable? How do we treat the untreatable?” Downing said.
The hospital is in the midst of a $12.9 billion expansion that includes adding to the Memphis campus and hiring about 2,300 new employees. The continued expansion is all part of St. Jude’s mission that no child should die when their life is just beginning.
Downing’s comments came at a Thursday luncheon where he received the Communicator of the Year award for 2022 from the Memphis chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. He was presented the award for his communication efforts around the campus’s massive expansion plans and other St. Jude initiatives.
Denzel Alexander, a University of Memphis graduate student and social media manager at KQ Communications, was also honored Thursday as the 2022 Student Communicator of the Year.
Downing said an award for communications was a strange one for him to receive. He described himself as the kid in high school who got panic attacks at the thought of public speaking and became a scientist so he could be left alone in the lab.
“Over the years in developing leadership roles, I began to realize how important communication is. How it is at the essence of what any leader does,” he said. “To actually achieve the goals that are laid out requires communicating that vision to every single employee at St. Jude. It doesn’t matter whether they’re the physicians or scientists or nurses... or that incredible workforce that actually keeps the place running clean and safe for our patients. Each and every one has to understand what we’re doing and what role they play.”
Corinne S Kennedy covers healthcare, economic development and real estate for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached via email at Corinne.firstname.lastname@example.org